Review of Knitty Kitty, by David Elliott

knitty_kittyKnitty Kitty

by David Elliott

illustrated by Christopher Denise

Candlewick Press, 2008. 32 pages.

Okay, I’m a sucker for picture books with knitting in them. This one’s a simple bedtime story book with a cozy theme.

Knitty Kitty sits and knits.

Knitty Kitty knits a hat to keep the first kitten cozy, mittens to keep the next kitten toasty, and a scarf to keep the third kitten comfy.

But the kittens decide to use the new things on their snowman, so at bedtime they need something — or someone — else to keep them cozy, comfy, and toasty.

The solution is snuggly and warm with lots of “Night-night”s to send your child off to sleep. It just makes me want to have a sleepered child to snuggle off to bed with this book. The warm and cozy illustrations are just perfect. I hope this book is still around when I have grandkids because this will be a perfect book for the knitting grandma I will be to read!

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Review of Thunder-Boomer! by Shutta Crum


by Shutta Crum

illustrated by Carol Thompson

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2009. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I should have reviewed this book in the summer, when I first read it, and when I meant to review it. And that’s simply a reflection of how behind I am on getting reviews written.

This book is a positively wonderful expression of a summer storm. The illustrations and the text combine with the onomatopoetic expressions written in the pictures (Who’s responsible for that? The author or the illustrator or both together?) to transport you into a summer storm, complete with thunder and lightning and hail.

The book starts with an oppressively hot summer day. Mother fans herself with her hat (“Swish, swish, swish”) and puts her feet in the pond next to Tom who’s slapping his feet against the surface (“plap, plap, plop”), and says, “We need a thunder-boomer.”

We see the wind pick up. It catches the clothes on the line. The dog catches Dad’s underwear! The sky darkens ominously. I love the way Carol Thompson captures the way the colors of the day dramatically change as the storm approaches and leaves. Together, they catch the sounds of the storm, the drama and the emotions of the storm.

At the end, they discover a gift from the storm, a little kitten whose purr is like the voice of the storm.

This is truly a beautiful book. Okay, it’s a little more appropriate for late summer than for early winter, but the story is nice any time of year.

If I were choosing books for consideration for next year’s Caldecott, I’d definitely hope this one gets considered for an Honor for the beautiful way the watercolors evoke the power and spirit of the stormy day, with the rain even bleeding out of the picture areas into the white space, like water leaking into the house. (Oh, except reading the note about the illustrator, I learn that she lives in England, so she wouldn’t be eligible. Well, this book is a truly distinguished work of art.)

A wonderful cozy adventure of waiting out a thunderstorm in a nice safe shelter.

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Review of A Wrinkle in Time Audiobook, Performed by Madeleine L’Engle

wrinkle_in_time_audioA Wrinkle in Time

by Madeleine L’Engle

Performance by the Author

Listening Library (Random House), An Unabridged Production on 5 compact discs, 5 hours, 17 minutes.
Text copyright 1962, performance copyright 1993 Tesser Tracks, Inc.
Newbery Medal Winner 1963.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

In the online Newbery Medal class I took, we were all asked what was our favorite Newbery Medal winner, and no book was mentioned more than Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. (For me, it’s second only to The Hero and the Crown.) Imagine my delight as I was taking the class when I discovered that our library had a version of the book on CD read by the author herself!

Madeleine L’Engle spent some time in the theater, and she’s not a bad reader at all, besides knowing how she meant certain things to be pronounced. I wrote a review of A Wrinkle in Time way back when I first started writing Sonderbooks, in August 2001, in only my third “issue.” I find it amusing that I complained that it was hard to read it aloud because I couldn’t figure out how to read Mrs Which. Because when I listened to this production, and Mrs Which’s voice was done with a reverberating echo, I immediately thought, “Oh! That’s how she meant it to be read!” (I also thought it was a little unfair, because you can’t add that when you read it aloud to your own kids without special equipment!)

Listening to Madeleine L’Engle read the book herself was like hearing a friend coming back from the grave to tell a story, and a warm and loving story. Madeleine expresses all Meg’s peevishness in her voice. She’s an imperfect, flawed kid — but she saves the day.

Listening to A Wrinkle in Time inspired me afresh. I may have to purchase my own copy and make a new tradition of not only reading A Wrinkle in Time every few years, as I used to do, but now listening to it every few years, read to me by Madeleine L’Engle herself.

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Review of Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko

al_capone_does_my_shirtsAl Capone Does My Shirts,

by Gennifer Choldenko

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2004. 225 pages.
2005 Newbery Honor Book
Starred Review

I had meant to read this book for a very long time, since my sister was working as a park ranger at Alcatraz when the book was published, so I have an extra fondness and interest in the island. I still haven’t ever been there myself, but superimposed her stories of camping out on the island with what was in this book, and, well, I have to visit some time! (Wendy, have you read this book yet? What do you think of it? Please comment!)

I finally got Al Capone Does My Shirts read when I took an online class on the Newbery Medal and had to read two Honor books from the same year as one of the Medal winners I read. I chose to read Al Capone Does My Shirts, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, having already read The Voice That Challenged a Nation, all from 2005, the year that Kira-Kira won the Medal. Now, I might have chosen the Medal differently, but I do have to agree that all four of those books are truly distinguished contributions to American literature for children. (And one of the things we learned in the class is that you may not agree that the Medal winner is the one best book of the year, but you can be pretty darn sure that the set of books honored is going to be a collection of excellent books.)

In Al Capone Does My Shirts, Moose Flanagan has just had to move with his family to Alcatraz Island. It’s 1935 and jobs are scarce, and his father got a good job offer as an electrician there (with some time as guard on the side), so they have to move so they can afford to have his sister Natalie go to the Esther P. Marinoff School, where his mother is convinced Natalie will learn to go on to live a normal life.

Moose is not happy about moving to Alcatraz. He’s not happy about his new school, he’s not happy to watch his sister while his mother takes on extra work, and he’s especially not happy about the warden’s daughter who looks sweet on the outside but seems bent on breaking all the rules and getting everyone else in trouble.

You can tell Moose is a great brother. He knows what Natalie needs and he’s extra considerate of what’s going to upset her (like losing her box of buttons or letting them get messed up). But he’s just a kid himself. Somehow, he’s the one people want to blame when other people’s schemes go awry.

Watching Moose cope with a new home — on a prison island, no less — new routines with his parents’ jobs, making new friends and trying to fit in, and even finding a way to help his parents get his sister to the desired school, all gives us lots to root for and sympathize with. This is an interesting, humorous and inspiring story about a quirky fact of American history — that families actually lived on Alcatraz Island, in a separate compound from the prisoners.

Gennifer Choldenko has recently written a sequel, Al Capone Shines My Shoes. I assure you that I will NOT wait so long to read it!

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Review of The Storm in the Barn, by Matt Phelan

storm_in_the_barnThe Storm in the Barn

by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2009. 201 pages.
Starred Review.

The Storm in the Barn, like L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, is a uniquely American fairy tale, but this one is written in the form of a graphic novel.

Given the setting of the Dust Bowl, this book shows us poor dejected Jack Clark, a kid who’s eleven years old and hasn’t ever seen rain since he was seven. The doctor thinks he may have dust dementia, as his sister has dust pneumonia.

Jack isn’t sure himself. Is it dust dementia, or is he really seeing an evil man made out of a thunderstorm, with lightning in his bag, a man who is hiding in the old abandoned barn and causing all their troubles? If Jack can release the lightning, can he save the country?

The images in this book are haunting and surreal. They will leave the reader wanting to know more about this bit of American history. I like the way the author weaves in Jack’s sister reading from Baum’s Oz books, since telling American fairy tales was exactly what Baum also tried to do, along with Jack tales from Europe that fit right in with Jack’s own story.

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Review of Show & Tell, by Dilys Evans

show_and_tellShow & Tell

Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration

by Dilys Evans

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2008. 150 pages.

Here’s a magnificent book for any adult who loves children’s picture books. I don’t think of myself as knowing much about art, but this book taught me much, and helped me appreciate the work and talent that goes into making picture books today and the great tradition behind it.

This wonderful book is in large format with lots of examples. It explains the career, the inspiration, and the techniques of twelve great children’s book illustrators.

The illustrators that Dilys Evans chose to feature are: Hilary Knight, Trina Schart Hyman, Bryan Collier, Paul O. Zelinsky, David Wiesner, Betsy Lewin, Harry Bliss, David Shannon, Petra Mathers, Brian Selznick, Denise Fleming, and Lane Smith.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning, she explains her choices:

The definition of “art” has been debated for centuries, but to my mind art happens when a particular creation stops us in our tracks. It makes us think. It touches our deepest emotions and oftentimes it teaches us something new.

Historically, children’s picture books have not been categorized as fine art…. My goal in this book is to explore some of the very best picture books that qualify for that distinction. As part of this exploration I looked for powerful imagery and storytelling ability that goes beyond a simple interpretation of the text or event….

For my purposes I needed a wide range of styles, techniques, and content. Some of the illustrators I have chosen are icons in the children’s book world, others are relative newcomers. But this is not a “best of” list. That would be impossible, given the incredible number of talented artists working in children’s books today…. My purpose was not to profile a particular group of illustrators but to choose a group that would offer readers as broad a frame of reference as possible.

Ultimately, my hope is that this book might help all of us who value children’s books to find a universal language to talk about art on the page; a vocabulary that helps describe this unique form of artistic expression with greater clarity and common understanding. And that we will then take that vocabulary and use it to explore the many other wonderful books that are on our shelves.

In this regard, we truly suffer from an embarrassment of riches. Children’s books have never looked better or been more important. They are one of the few quiet places left where a child can go to be alone, and to travel worlds past, present, and future. They are often the first place children discover poetry and art, honor and loyalty, right and wrong, sadness and hope. And it is there between the pages that children discover the power of their own imaginations. They are indeed a dress rehearsal for life.

Here’s a wonderful look behind the curtain at how that stage scenery is created.

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Review of The Complete Peanuts: 1973 to 1974, by Charles M. Schulz

complete_peanuts_7374The Complete Peanuts

The Definitive Collection of Charles M. Schulz’s Comic Strip Masterpiece
Dailies & Sundays
1973 to 1974

by Charles M. Schulz
Introduction by Billie Jean King

Fantagraphics Books, 2009. 323 pages.

It’s that time of year again. Every six months, Fantagraphics Books comes out with another two-year volume of their collection of the complete Peanuts comic strip, and every six months, I need to remind my readers how marvellous each new volume is.

In the 1973-1974 collection, we have many wonderful classics of the strip. Charlie Brown almost meets his hero Joe Shlabotnik. Incredibly, Charlie Brown’s team wins a baseball game — but then has to forfeit because of gambling. Then he has his whole episode where he develops a rash like a baseball seam on the back of his head.

Lucy continues to bewail the fate of being in love with a musician, poor thing. Sally continues to write reports with creative explanations. (Did you know that people who encourage vandalism are Evandalists?) Snoopy is still quite the athlete, and still does impressions. I loved the strip where he imitates a vulture — but stops, embarrassed, when Woodstock lands next to him and starts doing the same thing.

Snoopy’s writing career is flourishing, or at least he is spending much energy pursuing it. His rejection letters achieve new heights. I love the way most of his works (filling only four panels, after all) are an elaborate set-up for a bad pun. Charles Schulz does a great job showing us how bad Snoopy’s writing is that way. For example:

She wanted to live in Canada. He wanted to live in Mexico. Thus, they parted. Years later, when asked the reason, she replied simply, “I just didn’t like his latitude!”

Ah, so beautiful.

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Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

I love it! If I can swing it, I plan to make a weekly habit of participating in this my first blog meme. Tuesday is the night I work late at the library, but if possible, I’m going to make a post. Here’s how Teaser Tuesdays work:

Grab a book you’re currently reading.

Open to a random page.
**Note: I’m going to modify this to open to a page where my bookmark is unless it gives away too much.

Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.


Of course share the title and author, too.

Oh, I’ve got a fantastic one to share today, and it’s perfect because it’s from a volume of three stories and the first page of the first story can’t possibly be spoilers, can they?

I’d love for my readers to share theirs in my comments, but you can also do it on your own blogs, and of course on Should Be Reading. That’s how these things spread! Isn’t it fun?! That’s called community! 🙂

Okay, here are my teasers from Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor, page 145:

She went to sleep with brown eyes, and when she woke at dawn to the howling of wolves, her left eye was blue. . . . Her eye flashed at her in the mirror, pale as the wink of a ghost, and she forgot all about the wolves and just stared at herself.

Review of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

helpThe Help

by Kathryn Stockett

Amy Einhorn Books (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), 2009. 451 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #2 Fiction

First, thank you to my friend Intlxpatr for recommending this book. I finished it at 3 AM this morning and am still thinking about it.

I’m not usually a fan of books about civil rights era issues, but this one is so warm and personal, I was completely won over.

Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early sixties, the book speaks from the perspectives of three women, Aibileen and Minny, black maids who “help” in the homes of white women, and Miss Skeeter, a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi who is living in her domineering parents’ home, and would like to be a writer.

Aibileen gives tender loving care to a little girl whose mother sees her as an annoyance. The mother frantically spends her time at the sewing machine trying to sew covers to make things look nicer than they are.

Minny has recently been fired by Miss Hilly, the queen of Jackson society. And Minny, who always has had trouble keeping her true thoughts quiet, did the Terrible Thing to Miss Hilly. If Miss Hilly gets her way, and Miss Hilly always gets her way, Minny will never work in Jackson again.

But then Miss Hilly’s old boyfriend’s wife, who was poor white trash and desperately wants to get into the League, needs someone to help around the house and teach her how to cook. Only she doesn’t want her husband to know.

Meanwhile Miss Skeeter has an idea. What if she writes a book from the perspective of the maids? Only, how can she get anyone to talk to her? And if they do talk to her and get found out, what will happen to them?

One of the beautiful things about this book is that it doesn’t only show ugly things about racism. It also shows beautiful ways that people of both races lived and worked together and loved each other.

I do love the way the nasty self-important Miss Hilly gets her comeuppance, and the realistic course Miss Skeeter’s quest for romance and life purpose takes.

At first, I found it hard to believe that this book really took place in America the year or two before I was born. So it was strange when little cultural bits from my childhood came into it (like Shake N Bake!). The world that the white people of the book inhabit is as completely foreign to me as that of the help.

But that’s what this book does so beautifully. It does what it sets out to do, showing us, despite all the external differences:

“Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

I found myself feeling drawn into the lives of the maids, and also the lives of the white ladies they were working for. The book was doing exactly what books do best, showing me a window into other people’s souls. This is a beautiful, warm, and inspiring story.

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Review of The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley

hero_and_the_crownThe Hero and the Crown

by Robin McKinley

Greenwillow Books, New York, 1984. 246 pages.
1985 Newbery Medal Winner
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

Naturally, taking a class on the Newbery Medal was the perfect excuse to reread my all-time favorite Newbery Medal winner, The Hero and the Crown. I’ve already posted a review of my favorite Newbery Honor Book, The Blue Sword, which, no coincidence, is also by Robin McKinley.

I was a college student when The Hero and the Crown was written, and I’m not sure when I first discovered it, but now it’s one of those books I simply have to revisit every few years. Reading it again this time, I happened to have a persistent headache, but, my goodness, this book makes me feel ready to go out and slay my own dragons.

Technically, The Hero and the Crown is a prequel to The Blue Sword, since it was written second but the events in the story take place before those of The Blue Sword. Nowadays, they would call it a “Companion Novel,” because really the order doesn’t matter. I happened to read The Hero and the Crown first myself, and that worked fine. All I know is this: It doesn’t matter in which order you read them, just be sure that you read them!

If you like fantasy novels even the slightest bit, with these two books Robin McKinley established herself as the queen of the adventure heroine fantasy genre.

Aerin has always known she’s a misfit of a princess. Her mother was a witchwoman who enchanted the king, and Aerin has never shown any sign of manifesting the Gift for magic that all proper royals have.

Alas, the kingdom of Damar is having plenty of trouble, which is only to be expected since the loss of the Hero’s Crown.

Then her cousin Galanna goads Aerin into eating a Surka leaf — a plant that should manifest her Gift, if she had any. Aerin, instead, gets horribly ill. While recovering and trying to stay out of everyone’s way, she befriends her father’s old wounded warhorse, Talat. In her reading, she learns about an old potion that protects against dragonfire. Through persistent experiments, she perfects the formula for the ointment.

Now Aerin the witchwoman’s daughter is ready to make herself useful. With old broken-down Talat she begins fighting off the nasty vermin dragons that were out plaguing the villages.

But then, as her father is leaving to settle an uprising, a messenger comes bearing dread news.

“The Black Dragon has come…. Maur, who has not been seen for generations, the last of the great dragons, great as a mountain. Maur has awakened.”

This is the first tremendous challenge Aerin attempts and conquers, armed with her persistence and sheer determination.

The Hero and the Crown is one of the great girl-power novels of all time, along with magic and dragons and saving a kingdom and changing from a misfit to a true heroine. Fantasy lovers, like me, will come back to it again and again.

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